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Why Virat Kohli is different from MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar

Virat Kohli has taken a principled stand on endorsing products and the Indian cricket team skipper has made a bold statement on being honest and upfront, something which is unusual in the commercial world of professional sport.

columns Updated: Nov 16, 2017 10:12 IST
Amrit Mathur
Amrit Mathur
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Virat Kohli,Sachin Tendulkar,MS Dhoni
Virat Kohli has shown that he is different from MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar for his principled decision to not promote products he does not believe in. (AFP)

Virat Kohli takes ‘cringe-worthy’ swipes at opponents but his decision not to promote products he does not believe in demonstrates he plays with a straight bat. For A-list celebrities like him, brand endorsements --- for serious money --- is as simple as putting away a half volley which is drifting down leg. It’s a free gift --- little effort, big money.

By taking a principled stand on endorsing products, Kohli is making a statement about being honest and upfront. Till now, we were not exposed to this side of Kohli, the cricket megastar. The viral social media image of Kohli is of a youth icon with muscled body, tattoos, funky hairstyle and a designer beard. Now, we discover someone oozing swag, style, success also has values.

What Kohli has done is unusual in the commercial world of professional sport. MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar, two giants in this space, relentlessly push a wide range of products on television. This occasionally raises questions about the ‘social’ responsibility of celebrities when influencing consumer behaviour and choices. The question is not about using the product but whether they believe in the benefits/advantages it promises the consumer.

Normally, cricketers (and other celebrities) couldn’t be fussed about such issues. To them, it is a simple matter of exchanging fame for money, of monetising brand value and leveraging their popularity. Because of this, cricketers (also film stars) are called greedy and criticized for living in a bubble of entitlement, far removed from reality.

As part of this negative narrative, cricketers are accused of not ‘giving back’ to society. In defence of players, it must be pointed out many actively support social causes (cancer, polio, wildlife, environment, etc) and Virat fronts campaigns for road safety, vigilance awareness and election commission.

Celebrities are also charged for lacking social conscience and not speaking out on issues. Sometimes, silence is a deliberate choice and the ‘well left’ option of not attempting a shot is a strategic call. Why play on a wicket you know nothing about, said a player. “If asked questions on sensitive issues I keep quiet,” he said. “When I can’t understand Duckworth Lewis how will I know anything about GST?”

Staying within one’s area of expertise is understandable but cricketers must drop the fake sentiment of ‘giving back’ to the game. This standard line repeated by every retiring cricketer is an appeal for a post retirement job. Skilled professionals wanting to use their expertise commercially is understandable, but why cover a legitimate urge with hollow words.

Every cricketer who remains in the game in any capacity is ‘giving back’ and contributing in his own way. This holds good for ordinary players working in state associations or a Ravi Shastri/Rahul Dravid whose services don’t come cheap. All of them should be able to find their space, post retirement, and be engaged in an activity that rewards them financially.

Obviously, hiring Virat for any endorsement would cost a bomb but, like him, players in the supply chain have their own market price. This season, in a move remarkably progressive and forward looking, Delhi Ranji selectors have been contracted. Interestingly, the contract contains a performance clause that promises a bonus if the teams they select do well. Perhaps, this is to ensure the selectors believe in the teams they pick!

(Amrit Mathur is a senior cricket writer and has been involved with IPL in official capacity)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author

First Published: Nov 16, 2017 09:04 IST